terça-feira, junho 03, 2014

Emma: "Education is the essential tool to integrate minorities"

As a social worker, Emma had already worked with minorities in her country, Hungary. Now, thanks to her EVS project, she is having the chance to get to know better the situation of the Roma community in Portugal and to increase her knowledge and competences to understand their reality. 

- When and how did your interest in working with minorities start? Why working with the Roma community?
I studied Social Work for three years in Hungary and I had different interests. At the beginning I was specially focused on how to deal with mental diseases as a social worker. But at the end of my degree I went to the countryside for one week to make a small research internship working with the Roma community, and it completely caught me. I was really shocked by their reality, by the circumstances they live in and their lack of opportunities to have a better life. They were living without electricity or running water, and they were paying a rent for houses whose conditions were unacceptable. I couldn't have imagined before people living under such bad conditions, so I started to think why that could happen and what I could do as a social worker to fix it. My work in an association concerned about Human Rights helped me to have a deeper understanding about their reality. In 2009 I specialized in Social Development Work in the Netherlands with a thesis about Roma integration strategies in the EU. Then I started my master's degree in Hungary about Ethnic and Minorities Studies, focused in Roma people and Jewish in Central and Eastern Europe.

- What are the similarities and the differences between the Roma community in Hungary and in Portugal? How is your experience going working with them here?
In Hungary, people living in the poorest villages are called gypsies even if they are not, there is not a border between poor people and gypsy people. We have three different communities, romungro, beàs and olàh, and they are not as traditional as in Portugal. They want to be part of the society and fight against the prejudices. Here the communities are really traditional, the patriarchy is very strict and the caste system is still present. So if you are not a gypsy you shouldn't care about them, because they consider that it is not your business. Even if Portuguese society is more open-minded in terms of accepting cultural differences, with the Roma community is a bit different. In Hungary we have mixed couples between gypsies and non-gypsies, they accept to lose their roots in a certain way in order to be integrated in the society. In Portugal this is not so common, they are more closed in their own culture. My work in ALEM allows me to document and get to know how they are living and how they are dealing with their children's diet, which is our main goal with them. We are trying to support them by providing food and offering them help to use it properly. At the beginning it was really hard to reach their trust, but after three months of hard work we started to know each other and now it is much easier, it became natural. They understood that we are not there to judge them, but to approach them.

- What are the current topics of interest concerning the Roma community?
Education and unemployment are their main problems. And for me, in Portuguese Roma community gender issue is also a big matter. Women's role is being a mother and they don't have an acceptable education level to have the chance to get a job. As there are cultural differences between both countries, the solutions for their problems are also different. In Hungary is easier to achieve the goal to get more education because they are more available to accept the rules and their culture has a high respect for the education, whereas in Portugal they want to keep more their traditional habits, which includes to be reluctant to the integration. The girls must leave school at the age of 15 to get married and this is very comfortable for men, because they always have someone to take care of them and their children, so it is normal that they don't want to change it.

- What do you think are the steps to make their integration in the society possible and to stop the discrimination against them?
Education and respect to other cultures are the most important ones, I can't imagine any other way. There is a wonderful example of that with an experience that an Hungarian kindergarten teacher did. In Hungary gypsy parents are afraid to send their kids to the school because of the discrimination they suffer, so they prefer to keep them at home to protect them. Non-gypsy parents don't want school groups with a lot of gypsy kids because they think it is a disadvantage for their children in terms education quality. So the teacher realized it and she tried to arrange meetings and events for the parents to get to know each others. It functioned, because they started to work together and the cultural differences stopped being a problem for them. I think that for a successful integration it is indispensable to get the balance between the respect for the differences and the respect for the general rules.

- How do you evaluate EU politics in this issue and with minorities in general? What should be improved?
I can't compare with other minorities because the EU has different strategies according to the different minorities, but in any case they have to respect every member country's autonomy to make decisions about how to integrate minorities, always respecting European values. Regarding the Roma community, it is difficult to have a general rule because every country has a different problem. In Western Europe, for instance, it is a matter of immigration, while in Eastern Europe is a traditional minority, so it is not possible to create a general report where everything is settled. Nevertheless, it is important to establish some basic principles in order to try to get a balance in terms of equality.

- Concerning your cultural preferences, what book, film and song would you recommend us?
A book: Žert, by Milan Kundera.
A film: La piel que habito, by Pedro Almodóvar.
A song: Szabadon, by Palya Bea.


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